Identity Theft

Identity theft is the unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing credit card or another type of existing account, the unauthorized use of personal information to open a new account or for another fraudulent purpose, or a combination of these.

An estimated 8.6 million households had at least one person age 12 or older who experienced identity theft victimization in 2010. This was an increase from the 6.4 million households victimized in 2005 (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics). U.S households experienced about $13.3 billion in direct financial losses due to identity theft in 2010. Among households with losses of at least one dollar, the average loss was about $2,200.

Tips to Protect Yourself

  • Purchase a cross shredder to shred all your personal documents.
  • Consider putting a fraud alert on your credit accounts. Contact the major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. Future creditors will then have to contact you to confirm any new accounts by phone.
    • Credit Reporting Agencies:
      • TransUnion: 800-916-8800 or online
      • Equifax: 800-685-1111 or online
      • Experian: 888-397-3742 or online
  • Slow the flow of junk mail and telemarketers which is mostly a waste of time and resources. About 62 million trees and 25 billion gallons of water are used to produce a typical year's worth of junk mail in the United States. Worst of all, it puts you at greater risk for identity theft because each pre-approved credit offer that's sent to you is another invitation for someone to open a credit line in your name. To remove your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus: call the Opt-Out Line: 888-567-8688
  • Be Aware of Scams:
    • "You've Won a Prize!" Scam - We all want to be winners but do not be fooled into giving out your personal information. If someone calls you to offer you the chance to receive a "major" credit card, a prize, or other valuable item, but asks you for personal data - such as your Social Security Number (SSN), credit card number, expiration date, or mother's maiden name - be cautious! Ask them to send you a written application form. If they will not, tell them you are not interested and hang up. If they send it, review the application carefully and make sure it is going to a company or financial institution that's reputable.
    • Nigerian Scam - This scam has been used for over a decade and is sent out to victims via letter, email, or fax. It consists of a message stating the sender has a large sum of money, usually $10 million or more, and needs help transferring it out of Nigeria or some other country. As a reward for your help, the sender promises to pay you a percentage of the transferred funds. Do not give out your bank account number or any other personal information! The Better Business Bureau can give you information about businesses that have been the subject of complaints.
  • Protect Your Social Security Number - One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft is to protect your Social Security Number. Your SSN is the key to your personal information. By obtaining it a thief can get access to many things including your bank accounts and credit cards.
    • Do not carry your Social Security Card in your wallet or purse.
    • Keep this card in a safe place at home.
    • Do not imprint your SSN on your checks.
    • When asked to provide your SSN, ask the individual why it is needed and how they will be using the number.
    • Do not post your SSN in emails or chat rooms.
    • When applying for something online, make sure that the site is secure. Read the Privacy Policy of any website to which you may provide personal information. The policy will let you know how they use your information.
  • Reduce the amount of personal information that is "out there”. Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry. This registry gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. Most telemarketers should not call your number once it has been on the registry for 31 days. If they do, you can file a complaint on their website. You can register your home or mobile phone free.
    • National Do Not Call Registry: 888-382-1222 or online
  • Have your name and address removed from the phone book and reverse directories.
  • Install a locked mailbox at your residence to deter mail theft or use a post office box or a commercial mailbox service. When you are away from home for an extended time, have your mail held at the Post Office or ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up.
  • Pick up new checks at the bank rather than have them mailed to your home. If you have a post office box, use that address on your checks rather than your home address so thieves will not know where you live.
  • When you pay bills, do not mail bills from your unlocked mailbox. If stolen, your checks can be altered and then cashed. It is best to mail bills and other sensitive items at the Post Office.
  • Reduce the number of credit cards you actively use to a minimum and carry only one or two in your wallet. Consider canceling unused accounts. Even though you do not use them, their account numbers are recorded in your credit report, providing a tempting target for identity thieves. Be aware that reducing the number of credit card accounts might lower your credit score. Part of your score is determined by having credit cards and installment loans and making timely payments. (View more information on credit scoring.)
  • Photocopy or keep a list of all your credit card, bank account, and investment account numbers. Make note of expiration dates and telephone numbers of the customer service and fraud departments. Keep these in a secure place (not your wallet or purse) so you can quickly contact these companies in the event your credit cards are stolen or accounts are used fraudulently.
  • Never give out your SSN, credit card number or other personal information over the phone, by mail or on the internet unless you have a trusted business relationship with the company and you have initiated the call.
  • Always take credit card receipts with you. Never toss them in a public trash container. When shopping, put receipts in your wallet rather than in the shopping bag. Never permit your credit card number to be written onto your checks.
  • Watch the mail when you expect a new or reissued credit card to arrive. Contact the issuer if the card does not arrive promptly.
  • Order your credit report once a year, from each of the three credit bureaus to check for errors and fraudulent use of your accounts. Under federal law, everyone is entitled to request a FREE copy of their credit report once each year from each of the major national credit bureaus. It is a good idea for people to periodically review their credit report to make sure it is accurate, complete, and mistake-free and that an identity thief has not opened fraudulent accounts in your name.
    • How to Order Your Free Credit Report. You may order a free credit report once each year from each of the major credit bureaus— Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three credit bureaus have set up a central website, phone number, and mailing address through which you may order your free annual credit report. You may request your free reports from all three credit bureaus at the same time. You may also order a free report from each company one at a time at different points in the year, which allows you to monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year. When you order your free credit report, you will be asked to supply the following information: First name, middle initial and last name, Date of birth, Social Security number, and previous mailing address if you have been at your current address for less than two years.
      • By phone: Call 877-322-8228. You should generally receive a credit report ordered by phone in 15 days.
      • Online: Visit the Annual Credit Report website. You should be able to access a credit report ordered online immediately.
      • By mail: Write to Annual Credit Report Request Service at:
        P.O. Box 105281
        Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
        Your report should generally be mailed to you within 15 days after your request is received.